"Watch out for the piss."
The man in the American flag monster truck trucker hat put his hand around my waist so delicately, that for a moment, I didn't know if I'd ended up in the wrong living room of sweaty strangers. "Just walk on the tarp," said Ben, 62, a retired trucker, whose spare house seemed more like a DMV than a home. "We have an incontinent dog. Betty. She's a German. My wife won't do the diapers anymore, so the tarp is one big diaper for the house now. You drink Bud?" I don't, but I did.
In a sunny split-level ranch on a Sunday afternoon, a small group of California Libertarians met to discuss former two-term Republican Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, currently running for president as a Libertarian. I was curious to learn more and this was my first meeting.
"We just wanna be left alone!," yelled Stan, 51, a freelance business consultant, blowing out bubble gum weed smoke from his vapor pen. "Lemme be me in the privacy of my own home and let the government fix the roads. Okay? We need a manager-in-chief, not an activist-in-chief."
"Yes! Exactly," exclaimed Tara, 27, a sex worker with an old school '40s burlesque dancer tattoo on her forearm. She leaned in. "I feel like our basic humanity is punished for political points. Freedom is criminalized. Pleasure is criminalized. Liberty is so regulated. That's why Johnson is so important."
Gary Johnson's campaign is about as exciting as staring at a wall for four hours. Times a campaign. But if there has ever been a time for the Libertarian movement, it's now. The Republican Party has abandoned its right to govern, putting party before principle, power over patriotism, and nationalism over nation, essentially becoming a cult. And today, at this very moment, the Republican Party has become a political Heaven's Gate, led by a fanatic who has convinced his eager followers to slurp the phenobarbital-laced applesauce in one of the most stunning murder-suicides we have ever seen on reality TV. But there is no spaceship at the tail of this comet either, and by the time his minions figure that out, the Democrats will be counting the bodies in the Trump Tower bunk beds. So a good question to be asking right now is this: Is the Republican Party America's history or America's future? And who will be left in charge of answering that?
During a tangent about stock tips, Tara, who smelled like lemons, handed me a brochure on Libertarianism in America. "I dunno how much you know but this may be helpful. There's also Reason.com; it's a Libertarian magazine. I like to read that a lot."
I take a look and see that Libertarian principles represented by Johnson should be music to the ears of any true Republican, any true Conservative, and really any true hedonist. After all, Libertarians are the party of "Minimum Government, Maximum Liberty". When it comes to the government, everything goes; in the bedroom, anything goes. Personal and economic liberty are the bedrock principals of Libertarians: truly free markets would engender actual capitalism, which they claim we've never had. Meanwhile, the government would be banished from people's love lives, sex lives, drug use, and right to choose: self-satisfaction guaranteed.
Under a Libertarian agenda, the government would end warrantless wiretapping and its illegal surveillance programs, disarm its militarized police, and through its non-aggression principle, stay out of foreign affairs militarily--America, in the view of Libertarians, is not the world's police force. Who would fill that power vacuum is always a lingering fear; in principle, however, there is both a conservative and liberal coalition for this kind of anti-globalist thinking. Under a Libertarian agenda, the anti-government party would also end government, so if you're a Progressive, it's probably not a party you'd want a ticket for. Note to Sanders supporters: they are diametrically opposed to a new New Deal.
In reductive terms, the Libertarians are to Republicans as the Greens are to Democrats. Both parties flank their establishment cousins with purer ideological arguments, not winning many offices, but making their alt-status known every election, for better or for worse. As of this writing, 145 Libertarians currently hold office, from local committees and boards to city councils, judges, and mayors. Conversely, about 135 Greens hold office, with about the same spread. They're mostly political cicadas, in the national sense, popping up and causing a buzz while people stop and stare for a bit. They leave behind their shells, and are all but forgotten until the next emergence from political obscurity. This time, however, it's different.
"There's a sense among Republicans and Libertarians--and even some on the Left--that a reorganizing is now possible," said Dean, 46, a financial advisor. "No one should feel sorry for the Republicans--they invited the religious right to hijack them in the 80s and never looked back. It just got worse over time. And with Trump, they invited the bull into the china shop and then got mad when it broke all the china! And these guys wanna run the country?"
I ask them if their vote for Johnson--in this particular election--could backfire and send the authoritarian Trump into the White House. "Great!" said Ben, our host. "I'd rather die on my sword than waste my vote. Let it burn to the ground! They deserve it. They abso-fucking-lutely deserve it! We'll pick up the pieces after it all goes to shit."
Everyone should root for the Republican Party to be dismantled (and maybe the two party system) but not America. The fact that anyone could say that was really quite scary. I mean, what did they think, this was gonna be like The Purge and that after a crazy night of bloody insurrection, we could all just go back to normal? There is no back to normal after that. There is a new, and often, not better normal, that we should all be afraid of. Nobody should be rooting for the system to fail--if we can't work together while it's working, how do you think we'll do once it all comes crashing down?
I drank some room temperature beer to calm my nerves. Mariachi music played from a house down the block. I ask if Gary Johnson has a chance of winning.
"No. But Ron Paul would have."
Ron Paul could be retroactively dubbed the Bernie Sanders of 2008 and possibly even 2012. A principled, folksy Libertarian who served under the Republican banner for over five decades, Paul served in Congress, running for president on the Libertarian ticket in 1988. (His son Rand is now a senator in Kentucky and ran in the primaries in 2016). In 2008, when the U.S. was on the brink of economic collapse, when war appeared to be on autopilot, and unmanned drones and black site prisons emerged as a reality (for a long time, these were considered conspiracy theories at best), Ron Paul ran for president again. He was ignored by the mainstream media and endorsed by no one except his massive grassroots following during the Republican primaries, hauling in historic amounts of money.
Paul, like Sanders on the Left, is the quintessential insider-outsider - a consistent ideological purist who spoke truth to power very plainly. His voting record and no-frills demeanor was particularly appealing to a passionate young voter base eager to break up "politics as usual" and hear the things they knew to be true: the system is rigged; the government is bloated, inefficient and way too involved in our personal lives; and the American Dream promised to us has been hijacked by an elite cadre of special interests who have left us behind. These sentiments are not Left or Right--they are, by now, American.
Interestingly, both campaigns were led by older white men and both campaigns appealed, largely, to white people. To be fair, the Sanders coalition was much more diverse that Paul's. While campaigning in Bow, NH in 2008, I remember many Paul supporters saying that they would vote Kucinich if he was the Democratic nominee. Morally, it made sense: two polarized parties cannot sufficiently represent the diversity of need across a quickly changing electorate. Politically, however, it made less sense: how could such opposing political philosophies occupy the same brain?
As Paul said of Sanders in a recent Larry King interview, "I believe that the coalition between Libertarians and Progressives is a good coalition. And while my answer to solving big problems would always drift to the free markets, [Sanders] would drift to 'Well, we need more government to redistribute wealth,' but we could both attack subsidies to business or the military-industrial complex...in that sense, there is a kinship." Ron Paul has a point.
I brought this up. "I was a Sanders supporter and a Ron Paul supporter," said Jenna, 31, a stay-at-home mom. "But now, Johnson's the only one in this race who I think breaks the party system and can reform policies. He was a governor--that's not nothing."
"Why not Jill Stein?" I asked.
"Oh, I don't take her seriously. I don't really take any of it seriously, to be honest. I get passionate about it, but the system's too powerful for us. I can't afford to buy shares in Democracy like they all have. So, I'll probably vote Trump. He's crazy, but he's like a wrecking ball. We need that." A moan of agreement rose collectively from the group.
I couldn't help but feel that this marriage of unrestrained nonchalance and self-satisfaction in watching 'the whole thing burn to the ground' was incredibly detached in its decadence. Do we not care for each other anymore? Is there no more greater good? Are we that powerless and disaffected? If we have gone from "we, the people" to "me, the person" than what is to become of this great republic? What is to become of us? Not as 'a people' but just...as people?
The meeting was effectively over. Betty, the incontinent German Shepherd, smiled at us, panting, from beside the roaming fan. She saw me see her and hobbled over, sticking her head between my legs for attention.
If there was ever a better representation of the Republican Party at this moment--and maybe even America--it was this.